Idaho Becomes First State to Have “Ag-Gag” Laws Ruled Unconstitutional by Federal Judge

By Joe Wright

The old maxim that if you knew how sausage was made you would never eat it has been highlighted by many undercover videos taken by activists, employees of factory farming operations, and even the farmers themselves. In response, the industry has increasingly lobbied for “Ag-Gag” laws that criminalize whistleblowing and undercover investigations, essentially rendering animal cruelty completely invisible.

These laws already have resulted in egregious attempts at prosecution such as a National Geographic photographer who was arrested for taking aerial photographs near a feedlot; and another arrest of activists who released mink from a fur farm – in the latter case, they were actually indicted as terrorists.

However, even though Ag-Gag laws have taken hold in seven states, it has not been a slam-dunk for the Big Ag industry and its supporters.  State governors in Tennessee and North Carolina have vetoed initiatives, as have nearly 20 other states. However, Idaho is ground zero for what could indicate a complete federal overruling of any state where these laws appear.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a 28-page ruling that outlines how Ag-Gag laws fundamentally undermine the First Amendment to the Constitution. While doing so, he acknowledged how Big Ag/Government propaganda has attempted to paint well-meaning whistleblowers who expose legitimate crimes as part of some sort of anarcho-terrorist group bent on holding the country’s food supply hostage. He expressly begins by highlighting how industry can easily write self-serving laws.

Via Food Safety News, my emphasis added:

Winmill said the Idaho Dairymen’s Association then drafted and sponsored the bill to “criminalize the types of undercover investigations that exposed the activities at the Dry Creek Dairy.” The federal judge said the Idaho “ag-gag” law includes (1) criminalizing all employment-based undercover investigations, and (2) criminalizing investigative journalism, whistleblowing by employees, or “other expository efforts that entail images or sounds.”

The Boise-based judge made it clear in his decision that he had caught the entire “ag-gag” debate in the Idaho Legislature. He recalled a state senator who compared animal rights investigators to “marauding invaders centuries ago who swarmed into foreign territory and destroyed crops to starve foes into submission.” He noted that the same senator called Mercy for Animals-like investigations “terrorism” used for centuries “to destroy the ability to produce food and the confidence in the food’s safety.”

Winmill also recalled state representatives who charged Mercy for Animals with “taking the dairy industry hostage and seeking to persecute them in the court of public opinion.” And, he noted, the sponsor of the bill said he wanted to shield the Idaho dairy industry from undercover investigators and whistleblowers.


“An employee can be convicted for videotaping animal abuse or life-threatening safety violations at an agricultural facility without first obtaining the owner’s permission,” Winmill wrote in his ruling striking down the Idaho law. “Any person who violates the law — whether an animal rights’ investigator, a journalist, or an employee — faces up to a year in jail.”

“In addition,” he continued, “a journalist or whistleblower convicted under the law can be forced to pay publication damages pursuant to a restitution provision that requires payment for ‘twice’ the ‘economic loss’ a business suffers as a result of any expose revealing animal abuse or unsafe working conditions.”

Winmill stated that the purpose of the Idaho “ag-gag” law is to “limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values.”

Winmill’s ruling exposes the fundamental inadequacy of those who argue that states rights, or private property issues trump transparency, consumer safety, and the protected political speech of all citizens. As libertarian food writer, Karen De Coster, succinctly put it: it’s a matter of common sense and morality.

Unspeakable cruelty is simply never permissible under any circumstance; and any circumstance that is created where unspeakable cruelty is more easily facilitated and covered up is one in need of full revision.

Joe Wright’s articles can be found at

Also See: 
Duke Professor Suggests Simple Solution to Counter “Ag-Gag” Laws

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8 Comments on "Idaho Becomes First State to Have “Ag-Gag” Laws Ruled Unconstitutional by Federal Judge"

  1. Today my sister sent me a link to “The Shocking Truth About Costco Eggs” and I knew as I watched the three-minute video with the article that the person doing the filming was risking arrest and imprisonment for doing it. So this judge’s decision is welcome news, indeed. Costco should be shamed into changing their policy… or rather, fulfilling the policy they say they already have, and this video is a courageous step in that direction:

  2. Remarkable good news and surprising given Winmill received his J.D. from Harvard. Using another lens, in the long run, TPTB want a sharp reduction in meat consumption, thus setting up a social conflict that eventually results in portraying meat consumption as unhealthy and immoral works for them and this time it’s true given the deplorable practices of factory farming.

  3. Terrorism is threats by Government and Business to citizens who reveal their criminal behavior.

  4. Sumner Raphael Berg | August 4, 2015 at 8:52 pm |

    Every industry should be transparent but now days there seems to be cover-up everywhere mainly for profit. One prime example is Monsanto and what it has got away with. Also Merik with its vaccinations. I have personally given up all hope for humanity as the greed has blossomed and with be our demise. 10-4

  5. A rare win against the corporate tyranny and suppression of civil liberties that get worse by the day it seems. Way to go Winmill! Important ruling, seems like he went all out to set a precedent.

  6. I had to sign one of these to work for Petaluma Poultry. It was like I was working for the CIA and top secret chickens. They were serious too, a photo would get your fired and then embroiled in court lawsuits. They were the unhappiest people I ever worked for, the chickens had more personality than the people I had to work with. But I would love to see these ag-gag laws abolished and constitutional free speech allowed in the work place.

  7. All Factory Farms need to be shut down NOW! Stop buying these Multi-National Products! Cotsco is by far, the LESSER offender! Because of the Tran-Pacific Partnership, YOU are NOW a Product to be Harvested & Exploited You are OWNED by the Multi-National Corporations now! That includes Big Pharma, Big Agra aka Monsanto’s, Big Oil ect. ! Costco is an American company, they are NOT on the Same page as these EVIL Multi-National Corporations! Why do you think there are Guillotines in the Fema-Camps! Because YOU are Worth More DEAD than Alive! (Organ Harvesting) Costco ISN’T apart of that program!
    There are going to be HUMAN Factory Farms NOW because of the TPP! So by having a Moral Code for Animals, you will Actually SAVE yourself and Loved ones from this INHUMANITY! STOP Supporting Multi-National Corporations NOW –By your Dollar!

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